After Peter Laviolette ripped his team for their poor defensive effort and “soft” performance in Detroit on Friday night, the Nashville Predators responded with a decisive 4-1 win in Montreal tonight.

Juuse Saros, who was stellar in net and finished with 27 saves, did not have to work as hard as Pekka Rinne did in Detroit on Friday.

It was so bad on Friday night, that Laviolette had some of his harshest comments about his team since arriving in Nashville.

“Awful… it’s very, very, very disappointing how soft we were,” Laviolette said on Friday. “We lost every 50-50 puck battle… We had three or four guys who showed up to compete on some pucks and we had 15 that didn’t and you’re never going to win that way. It’s impossible.”

When your coach throws out the “S” word and then all but calls out individual players for not playing hard, you know the team played poorly.

The message appeared to work as the Predators were anything but soft tonight against the Canadiens.

Improved defense, timely offense

After Juuse Saros was forced to make a few tough saves early, and it looked like we would have a repeat performance from the Detroit game, the Preds eventually rewarded Saros with an early 2-0 lead.

First, Craig Smith scored off a rebound in front of Carey Price to make it 1-0, thanks in part to a heavy shot by P.K. Subban from the blueline. Then with 36 seconds left in the period, Rocco Grimaldi pressured the Habs’ defense and found Mattias Ekholm on the left side, who rocketed home a shot to make it 2-0 Preds.

A quick strike offense fueled the Preds in the 2nd period. After Shea Weber (remember him?) scored to get the Habs within one, Craig Smith answered 18 seconds later with a wrap-around goal to make it 3-1.

Then in the 3rd period, more defensive work and some stellar goaltending by Juuse Saros helped close it out. Really, the only problem Juuse Saros had all night was climbing the boards after a delayed penalty on the Habs.

Subban the focus, defense the story

Before the game, all eyes were on P.K. Subban, with him making yet another return to Montreal. That will probably always be a story line anytime these two teams meet. But tonight it was the overall defensive effort from the Preds that told the full story.

The Predators did a great job of protecting Saros from having to do too much. While the Canadiens were worried about the counter attack from guys like Viktor Arvidsson and Rocco Grimaldi, the Preds were able to deny easy entries and direct the puck to low danger areas.

Here’s a look at a shot heat map from the game, courtesy of Natural Stat Trick.

Nashville Predators Montreal Canadiens
The Preds kept the front of the Nashville net relatively clean, forcing the Habs to take shots from much further out.

Anytime you can force that much shooting from the outside, you are doing a great job defensively.

Compare that heat map to other recent games–such as the one from Friday night–and you can see how much easier things were for Saros. Not that he wasn’t spectacular, he was working the glove and pads well. But you want to make it easy on your goalie and the Preds did that tonight.

Next up the Predators take on the Maple Leafs in Toronto on Monday night.

— Featured image via Jean-Yves Ahern/USA TODAY Sports —

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